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5 things to watch: Detroit Lions minicamp

The Detroit Lions are hosting their annual mandatory three-day minicamp in Allen Park this week, which is one of the final tune-ups for the players and coaches before the summer break and start of training camp this summer.

This is an important time of year to get the new players and rookies acclimated to the schemes so they can hit the ground running come camp.

Here's a look at five things I'll be watching out for during this week's minicamp:

1. Health, attendance and participation

There have been a number of players absent due to injury or personnel reasons in the optional OTA practices over the last couple weeks as well as players rehabbing injuries or getting limited reps due to injury.

This week is the mandatory portion of the offseason training program, and the expectation is the full roster will be in attendance, though not everyone will participate in practice.

We won't see players like DJ Reader and Brian Branch on the field until training camp because of injuries, but it will be the most complete Detroit's roster has been this spring, which means there should be some good work on the field. The media gets to watch all three of these minicamp practices in their entirety and that should lend itself to some pretty good observations this week.

2. Rookie development

It's a pretty big transition from rookie minicamp to joining the veterans on the practice field for the beginning of OTAs and this week's mandatory minicamp.

First-round pick Terrion Arnold has acclimated himself nicely. He's getting first-team reps on the outside at cornerback and has already shown off some playmaking ability vs. the vets with a drill-ending interception of Jared Goff in a team period in last week's open OTA practice.

The Lions are expected to get early contributions from youngsters like Arnold, fellow cornerback Ennis Rakestraw Jr., running back Sione Vaki and defensive lineman Mekhi Wingo, but they will have to earn their roles through competition with veterans.

Detroit's been careful with Rakestraw this spring, limiting his reps since he underwent surgery at the end of his college season for a core muscle injury. Vaki and Wingo have been earning backup reps, along with offensive linemen Giovanni Manu and Christian Mahogany. How will the youngsters fare this week?

3. Defensive gains

It's no secret that if Detroit is going to take the next step and earn the franchise's first Super Bowl bid, they will need a more consistent performance from their defense, especially when it comes to their pass defense.

Third-year Pro Bowl defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson said last week the defense has a new aggressive mindset coming into this season, and for the first time in defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn's tenure they might have the personnel to best match his schemes.

The Lions revamped their secondary with the additions of veteran cornerbacks Carlton Davis III and Amik Robertson and with the drafting of Arnold and Rakestraw. They also made some upgrades along the defensive line with the additions of veterans DJ Reader and Marcus Davenport, who they think will help impact the pass rush.

On paper, the Lions are in a much better position to marry their rush and cover into a much more effective pass defense unit. How do Josh Paschal, James Houston, John Cominsky and others fit into the rotation? Can second-year defensive lineman Brodric Martin take a big step forward and impact the rotation?

Through the first couple open OTA practices the defense did a good job getting pressure on Goff. The cornerbacks, especially Davis and Arnold, did a good job getting their hands on footballs and breaking up passes. Will that continue this week?

View photos from Day 6 of Detroit Lions OTA practice on Friday, May 31, 2024 in Allen Park, Mich.

4. Second-year leaps

Detroit got instrumental contributions from a number of rookies last season, led by tight end Sam LaPorta, running back Jahmyr Gibbs, linebacker Jack Campbell and Branch.

With their first true offseason to get healthy, focus on their bodies and just worry about football, we usually see an uptick in production from a player's first year to their second.

If that's the case for this draft class, what could we be in store for? What if LaPorta and Gibbs are even better? What does that mean for this offense? The game has slowed down for Campbell and Branch and their continued development is instrumental in the gains the defense hopes to make in 2024.

Then there's later draft picks like Martin, quarterback Hendon Hooker, offensive lineman Colby Sorsdal and wide receiver Antoine Green, who are hoping to form the core pieces of Detroit's depth at those positions. That's important with the fact that it's not a matter of if injuries are going to happen but when.

It will be fun to keep an eye on all the second-year players this week.

5. New kickoff play

The kickoff return is back in the NFL, and Detroit Lions special teams coordinator Dave Fipp said the team is still in the exploratory phase of how they want to implement the play.

"There's a lot of things that are new. This time of year, we're trying to experiment as much as we can, obviously," Fipp said. "And putting our guys in a bunch of different situations, both in schemes, positionally on the field, alignments, how we're trying to play the play, mindset, mentality of it.

"Kind of all of the above and just trying to figure out a lot of things. Every time we do a drill, we do it a little bit differently and with different guys in different places."

It certainly takes a little getting used to watching it for the first time. The new rules also change the skillset necessary for the play. There's no longer a 40-yard run up that requires players with long speed. Players are now five yards apart and it's more of a one-on-one play where short-area quickness and suddenness will be more effective.

How will Fipp and head coach Dan Campbell utilize Detroit's personnel for that play?

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